Are any of you first-year undergraduates at Soton and WSA thinking of studying abroad next year? If so, how about a first-hand account from a previous exchange student?
Here, let me take you to the beginning of my journey from good old rainy England. Put it this way, waking up at 2:30am for a flight was not pleasant, nor paying an arm and a leg for taking a taxi to Stansted airport…rather dismal really. But nonetheless I cannot express the nervous excitement I felt towards ‘stepping into the unknown’, as I sat in that taxi with a charmingly talkative driver. I had never been a vast traveller and Slovenia was certainly a rather unknown country among my counterparts. So for me it felt like some kind of ‘surreal adventure’. Luckily there were no complications throughout the airport or flight, even though I had constantly been fretting over the possibility that my hold luggage exceeded the weight limit or that I had forgotten some form of unnecessary document (those budget airlines!). But on the contrary the whole process ran smoothly and without a mishap.
Once arriving in Ljubljana, opting to take a taxi to my dormitories (not exactly the cheapest option but I didn’t want to risk getting lost in a foreign city) I sat in the student residence’s reception hall for almost two hours, waiting to be assigned my room of accommodation. I was not the only one of course. There were a considerable number of other Erasmus students who had decided to arrive one week early in order to have the time to settle in and escape the ridiculous expense of flights that approached ‘Valentine’s Day’, that occurred later that week. So, after what seemed like a bloody eternity, I obtained my keys and moved into my dormitory. Now, the prospect of sharing a room with someone else did not exactly please me, as I had never shared a bedroom before in my life. So this would add to my little list of new experiences. But I was incredibly lucky to say the least! My roommate was awesome and has become a good friend, which is unfortunately more than I can say for everyone else I knew in dormitories. Other friends that I made in our dorm did not seem to share the same friendships with their roommates, which is a great shame.
It is hard to express how I felt throughout the first week. I must say I felt rather lonely for some, what felt like, an anonymous reason considering I had such a lovely roommate and met numerous other great Erasmus students during a short tour of Ljubljana. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I was only just getting used to my new surroundings (plus I missed my boyfriend like crazy, something I knew would be a sad challenge. Thank God for Skype!). And then the first day of our semester began.
There were three Erasmus students in Painting like me and luckily we became good friends rather quickly, so I was additionally fortunate in that department. The Fine Art Academy itself was rather dated and needed some refurbishment, but nonetheless it was different and I was ready for painting in an alternative environment. The professors were…well how can I put it…rather ‘laid-back’ professionals with a relaxed, blunt approach to teaching. More or less the typical artist stereotype: cool, partly eccentric, but observant.
In the weeks that followed I made many great friends and grew close with my classmates, not to mention the fun days and nights out! In Ljubljana, for all university students there was a student meals system in place, allowing us to have three-course meals in central restaurants for a limited price! So I can safely say I didn’t starve, in fact quite the opposite! For the Erasmus student community, the ‘fat and happy club’ was probably a big part of the experience. Another brilliant part of the exchange was the opportunity to travel. One fantastic element of my Erasmus was a four day road trip through Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a three day academy visit to Berlin and Munich. I just saw so much in an incredible four months.
Towards the end of my Erasmus, I felt my art work had taken a new working approach, and I began to develop alternative ideas. I was lucky enough to take part in two group exhibitions outside of Ljubljana which seriously added to my development as an emerging artist. It was a new opportunity for me and was rather nerve-racking but nonetheless I got through it with some success! But I believe the hardest part of it all was leaving the extraordinary people I had met, the friends I had made close bonds with. But that was probably the best part of the experience. The friendships made. Believe me, an exchange abroad teaches you many a thing and gives great memories. It’s well worth it…